In The Histories, Herodotus explains how Cyrus became the first Persian emperor. Cyrus was the adopted son of a wealthy leader in Persia. At that time, the Medes, not the Persians were the dominant people of the region. Cyrus forged a letter saying that the King of the Medes had appointed him military general for the Persian tribes. He used this as a pretext to force the Persian military to assemble near his parents’ property with scythes.
Nearby was a large thicket of thorny shrubs and he told the Persian soldiers to clear it. All day, the Persian men toiled under the heavy sun of the Levant. When they finished their task in the evening, Cyrus told them to assemble again the next morning.
In the meantime, Cyrus had his father’s servants prepare a massive feast. When the Persian men assembled the next day, exhausted from the previous day’s work, Cyrus told them to relax on the open field and enjoy the feast.
At the end of it, he asked the Persian soldiers, “Which do you prefer? Yesterday’s work? Or today’s feast?”
The Persian soldiers shouted, “The feast!”
Cyrus said, “Obey my orders and you will enjoy a thousand pleasures as good as this without ever turning your hands to servile labor; but if you disobey, yesterday’s tasks will be the pattern of innumberable others you will be forced to perform.” The Persian men followed him in revolt against the Medes and eventually conquered all the Eastern Mediterranean.
Cyrus’s story is an example of the power of experiential learning. He didn’t give a persuasive speech to win the Persian support, he transformed the soldiers perspective through experience.
Experience is a potent teacher. One of the ways we can employ it intentionally is to take on challenges.
For example, at a Microconf several years ago, a speaker presented on a challenge that him and his SaaS co-founders had undertaken.
They committed to grow revenue by a small percentage each month for a year. During the year they succeeded and failed at this challenge, but it was successful enough in driving change that they kept doing the challenge for the following years. At the time of the presentation, they were well over $100,000 MRR, something like ~$480,000 MRR.
The challenge was impactful in terms of results, but what the speaker spent an hour talking about was all that they learned. That’s what enabled the results.
Challenge > Learning > Change.
Good challenges are simple, with clear constraints, and hard.
What matters most for your growth? Is there a challenge that would educate you there?
Featured image is Cyrus’s army defeating Croesus’s by Walter Hutchinson 1877, used under public domain